The second question may be compared with ‘Did you feel that?’ in the production of hysterical anæsthesia (see Chapter VIII). The hysteric reasons, consciously or unconsciously:–It is natural to feel a pin prick, but the doctor is looking for signs of disease and he must expect to find a numbness or he wouldn’t ask the question, so the answer is ‘no’.
When Sir Oliver asks concerning a yacht, ‘Did it run on the water?’ the reasoning is similar, and the word ‘run’ helps, for no yacht runs on the water; if the yacht sailed on the water the question would not be asked, therefore the answer here was ‘no’, but the medium maintained a clever ambiguity whilst feeling her way.
The third answer was a cleaner guess, but wrong.
He says: ‘All this about the tent and boat is excellent, though not outside my knowledge’…. Then he adds, concerning the boat, ‘I believe it went along the sands very fast occasionally, but it still wouldn’t sail at right angles to the wind as they wanted it…. On the whole it was regarded as a failure, the wheels were too small; and Raymond’s “didn’t” is quite accepted.’
And Raymond’s ‘did’ would have been as readily accepted and put in the same chapter headed ‘Two evidential sittings.’
Contrast these halting scraps to the following (p. 249): ‘He wants to tell you that Mr. Myers says that in ten years from now the world will be a different place. He says that about fifty per cent. of the civilised portion of the globe will be either spiritualists or coming into it.’
No hesitation here, but no possible verification either, nor any hint that a hundred per cent. of the uncivilised people of the globe are already spiritualists.
Sir Oliver’s imagination does not keep pace with his readiness to fit revelation to fact. After the tent, the water, and the yacht, comes–‘rods and things, long rods. Some have got little round things shaking on them like that. And he’s got strings, some have got strings. “Strings” isn’t the right word, but it will do. Smooth, strong, string-like.’
Of this Sir Oliver says: ‘The rod and rings and strings mentioned after the “boat”, I don’t at present understand. So far as I have ascertained the boys don’t understand either at present.’ Surely an out-of-door family like this includes at least one fisherman; why not think out who he is and score another bull’s-eye to the medium?
A delightful example of Sir Oliver’s anxiety to help the medium occurs on page 256:–
O. J. L.: ‘Do you remember a bird in our garden?’
(Feda (_sotto voce_): ‘Yes, hopping about’).
O. J. L.: ‘No, Feda, a big bird.’
‘Of course not sparrows, he says. Yes he does.’ (Feda (_sotto voce_): Did he hop, Raymond?)
‘No, he says you couldn’t call it a hop.’
This book of Sir Oliver Lodge’s shows an honesty which, together with the circumstances under which it was written, makes critical examination difficult; but there are similar circumstances in many a household to-day, and the honesty of the writer leads many people, who reason that what an eminent man honestly believes must be true, to turn to a mind-wrecking belief in mediums instead of finding consolation in a saner philosophy or religion.
At my first séance it strained my belief in human intelligence to find respected friends believing the romances and guesses of a trickster to be spiritual manifestations, and I thought that there must at least be a more elaborate type of deceit, since believers were to be found among our scientific aristocracy. My belief is no longer strained, but broken, for I find in Sir Oliver’s medium the same tricks, the receptivity, the halting search for material, and the same easy flow of unverifiable revelations that characterised the medium I first met.
Thanks to his honesty, one is able from the material supplied by this writer to trace the source of many ‘revelations’, and in the rare examples where the source is not manifest (as in the ‘pedestal’ incident, p. 257) it is scarcely unfair to presume some unintentional suppression. I say unintentional because Sir Oliver, blind to the explanations his own book offers, is plainly incapable of wilfully suppressing facts that tell against himself.
Spiritualism has its fashions, apparitions and materialisations having now given place to communications with the dead, which is the ‘New Revelation’. Its newness is not so apparent when we read the story of the Witch of En-dor. Even the occasional deportation of undesirable mediums is not new, for Saul ‘put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land’ (1 Samuel, chap. xxviii.). When he disguised himself to visit the witch she recognised him just as the mediums recognise Sir Oliver; but the modern resemblance is best seen when we read that Saul, after asking for Samuel, ‘said unto her, what form is he of? and she said, an old man cometh up, and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel.’
Here we see the medium giving to the credulous believer just what he wants, and the believer reaching out to accept the trivial guess as a spirit revelation. But the remoteness of the event (even at the time the account was written) allowed of prophecies far more to the point than any modern medium’s, though, as often happens nowadays, their fulfilment was described by the same writer that reported them.
In one respect we have degenerated since the days of Saul; the Witch of En-dor was not hailed as an instrument of divine power destined to provide a new driving force for religion.